Stephen Hawking could not join the team of Fred Hoyle's team in Cambridge but in 1965 as a student he showed them both how their theory of gravity is incompatible with an expanding universe, at a time when the accelerating expansion of the universe was not known.
In fact, the discovery of the accelerated expansion is fairly recent and it earned the Nobel prize in 2011 and no wonder the conformal theory of gravity proposed by Fred Hoyle and Jayant Narlikar originally fitted into the quasi steady state model of the universe. This was the first time Hawking confronted an Indian student, senior to him by three years, in the same department in Cambridge.
Recalling his association with Hawking, Narlikar told Mint: "During our university days, I was told that Hawking had only two years to live and soon his physical deterioration started but he showed tremendous determination and willpower and did marvelous work in astrophysics."
It was almost three decades later, in January 2001 when British physicist Stephen Hawking came to India for the first time and in the first leg of the tour in Mumbai, he addressed an international physics seminar at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
He was felicitated with the first "Sarojini Damodaran Fellowship" during the "Strings 2001" conference and he delivered several lectures during the five-day seminar, including one titled "The Universe in a Nutshell." Later, Hawking took a city tour in a specially designed vehicle from Mahindra & Mahindra that accommodated his wheelchair.
The physicist also celebrated his 59th birthday at the Oberoi Towers hotel where he stayed and in his next leg of tour, he visited New Delhi, and met then President K.R. Narayanan at Rashtrapati Bhavan who later described the 45-minute meeting with the British physicist as "an unforgettable experience".
"Indians are so good at mathematics and physics", the British theoretical physicist had told the President. According to Narayanan, Hawking was the "symbol of human hope and inspiration for all those who are handicapped in one way or the other".
Hawking also visited Jantar Mantar and Qutab Minar though he did not make any remarks on their engineering marvel. He delivered the Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture in New Delhi on January 15, 2001.
Hawking, who shaped modern cosmology and inspired millions despite suffering from a life-threatening condition, died on Wednesday. He was 76. He is regarded next to Einstein in India, a country of passion for science, technology and the one that gave humanity the 'zero' in mathematics.
(With inputs from IANS)